Profiles of LGBT people, from the past and today – and celebrating their birthdays! All Birthdays →

Deborah Sampson

The first known woman to serve as a soldier in the U.S. military, Deborah Sampson successfully defied gender norms and expectations at a time when there was little support for doing that. The descendent of a colonist who came to North America on the Mayflower, Sampson was the eldest of seven children. Her father abandoned the family, which then struggled with poverty. After several years as an indentured servant and then work as a schoolteacher, Sampson decided to enlist in the military to fight in the American war for independence. She cut her hair short, bandaged her breasts tightly to her body, made herself a set of men’s clothes and, in May 1782, enlisted in a Massachusetts regiment as Robert Shurtliff. She proved to be a fierce soldier, including engaging in hand-to-hand combat. Shot in the leg, she removed the bullet herself rather than risk being discovered. Discharged honorably after 18 months of service, Sampson later married and had three children. The state of Massachusetts and the U.S. Congress both awarded her pensions in recognition of her service. For a time, Sampson went on lecture tours in New England and New York. Beginning her lecture in women’s clothes, she would later change into her uniform and exhibit her military skills. Sampson died on April 29, 1827.